25 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Pablo Picasso to Emily Dickinson. Community Meals to Winter Festivals.

Pablo Picasso to Leonardo da Vinci. Anatomy and physiology to zymology. Agriculture to wildlife. These are just a few of the community-based learning highlights we’re featuring this week. Peruse our list and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured seasonal highlight this week:

Think about this … How would families and neighbors gather in the winter before the invention of automobiles and highways? How did the inability to travel far distances impact communities and relationships? How do winter festivals gather communities together? What types of activities do they host to foster connection and togetherness during the colder months? Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts, like our winter festivals!


Cookbooks are great tools for learning about culinary arts while empowering you to make delicious food to bring to community meals and to host your very own. Consider hosting a monthly potluck at your home, maybe make it part of a book club or game night. Gather a group of friends or nearby neighbors and rotate who hosts each month. Food brings people together, and community meals have the potential to cross the generation gap and strengthen a sense of place.

COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATIONAL EVENTS: When thinking about ways to engage in your community that support your interests, also consider ways to promote your family values. Community meals offer implicit learning opportunities by providing an intergenerational environment for community members of all ages to share stories and make connections at the “kitchen table.” Community meals, like the annual Souper Bowl of Caring in Williamsburg, often times raise funds that support community food security. Other community meals, like the Community Soup & Bread Nights in Cummington, support different service organization every month while supporting an intergenerational environment with entertainment and an open mic.

SELF-INITIATED ACTIVITY: Hilltown Families has had many great community chefs share their recipes and cooking adventures over the years. Alice Cozzolino, the co-owner of The Old Creamery before it became a co-op, shared many delicious soup recipes in her archived column, In the Kitchen with Alice: Recipes & Local Lore from the Old Creamery Co-op. We’ve pulled out a few soup recipes you might want to make together this winter as a family, exploring new tastes and practicing culinary skills. You could also make a batch to take to a community meal or invite friends over for a potluck supper.

Intergenerational: TEENS & ADULTS

COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATIONAL EVENTS: Community meals cross the generation gap, but there are also events that are specifically for certain age demographics for folks to share interests and challenges that might be for their specific group, like parents and teens. This week parents can find a workshop that support their raising of children with anxiety disorders and a monthly support group for raising children with ADHD. Adults can also find fun date night events, including live hip-hop music and evening at the museum learning about dinosaurs. And for teens, this week there is a comic workshop, movie night, and drumming and dancing just for them!


COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATIONAL EVENTS: Western Massachusetts winter festivals begin this weekend, starting with WinterFest Amherst 2019! Community winter festivals provide a gathering space for friends, families, and neighbors to get together, visit with each other, tell stories and share news… just as our predecessors in this region did before us. Winter festivals provide the space and occasion for community members to enjoy the winter season through art collaborations, fairs, and winter-themed activities. Additionally, these festivals are a way to explore different art forms, such as ice sculpting, share skills with others, and learn about local history and cultural traditions. Celebrate winter at these annual festivities, including celebrations in Amherst, Holyoke, and Northamption this week, and start a new family tradition!


Wild Life: A Center School Open House! An afternoon of animal and nature-based activities this Sunday. Participate in a family hike or outdoor challenge with Venture Out. Meet a collection of special, rescued animals. Watch a screening of “Mother Nature’s Child: Growing Outdoors in the Media Age.” Participate in environmental activism. And more! All are welcomed. See the website for full schedule details: centerschool.net.

COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATIONAL EVENTS: Native species and our natural habitat are excellent community-based resources to support interests and education. As children, we may have been taught that mammals hibernate all winter, but they actually move around quite a bit. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and some of their relatives make a habit of moving around in winter. This week there are several opportunities to track native species in the snow and ice. Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, Graves Farm, Great Falls Discovery Center, and Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary all have guided events where you can look, identify, and collect for your very own nature table:

  • LOOK at the base of trees, especially ones with low-hanging branches. Be on the lookout for fallen trees or clumps of branches protruding from the snow, as these can be homes or hiding places for small mammals, too.
  • IDENTIFY by finding a series of nearly identical imprints in the snow, usually in line with one another. A vertical hole or other tunnel-like openings in the snow nearby the tracks is a good sign they’re real ones!
  • COLLECT evergreen seeds or cones (a food source), and look carefully for scat so long as you can collect it safely using proper methods.

SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: Not only is winter the ideal season for tracking because of the blank canvas that snow provides, the cold temperatures help to open up access to habitats that cannot be explored during the rest of the year. In particular, winter is an excellent time to learn about beaver habitat! Download our free Nature Guide, Tips for Exploring Beaver Habitat: Lodges, Dams, Caches, and Adaptations, to learn about beavers and their habitats.


COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATIONAL EVENTS: Community resources, including museums and wildlife sanctuaries, are places to consider when looking for learning opportunities that support an interest in drawing. Interests in specific artists, including Pablo Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci, are supported this week by local museums too.


SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: Let’s take a walk through one of Emily Dickinson’s poems to learn more about her philosophy and writing style:

COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATIONAL EVENT:  Candlelight & Cocoa happens on Thursday, February 7, starting at 4:45pm at The Emily Dickinson Museum. Candlelit tours of the Homestead. See the Museum anew while listening to winter poems, and discover what this season of “hoar delights” meant to Emily Dickinson, a notable Amherst resident. Before or after your tour, enjoy a cup of hot cocoa and cut and color a paper conservatory “bloom” to brighten your own winter windows. Tours are offered on a first-come, first served basis every half hour starting at 5pm through 6:30pm. Signups begin at 4:45pm. Emily Dickinson Museum. 413-542-8161. 280 Main St, Amherst, MA.

Interest: STEM

COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE: Have you heard of Greenfield Community College STEM Starter Academy? It’s a free learning opportunity to explore science, technology, engineering, and math while earning college credit … for free! Check out this video and learn more about this opportunity.

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Agawam, Gill, Shelburne, Buckland, Hadley, Tolland, New Salem, and Westhampton Cultural Councils, local agencies that are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

[Photo credit: (cc) Ella Olsson]


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